Former Rules

Former Rules of Professional Conduct: Rule 1.15--Safekeeping Property

This Rule governed the practice of law in the District of Columbia from January 1, 1991, through January 31, 2007. As of February 1, 2007, the Amended Rules took effect.

   (a) A lawyer shall hold property of clients or third persons that is in the lawyer’s possession in connection with a representation separate from the lawyer’s own property. Funds shall be kept in a separate account maintained in a financial institution which is authorized by federal, District of Columbia, or state law to do business in the jurisdiction where the account is maintained and which is a member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation, or successor agencies. Other property shall be identified as such and appropriately safeguarded; provided, however, that funds need not be held in an account in a financial institution if such funds (1) are permitted to be held elsewhere or in a different manner by law or court order, or (2) are held by a lawyer under an escrow or similar agreement in connection with a commercial transaction. Complete records of such account funds and other property shall be kept by the lawyer and shall be preserved for a period of five years after termination of the representation.
   (b) Upon receiving funds or other property in which a client or third person has an interest, a lawyer shall promptly notify the client or third person. Except as stated in this rule or otherwise permitted by law or by agreement with the client, a lawyer shall promptly deliver to the client or third person any funds or other property that the client or third person is entitled to receive and, upon request by the client or third person, shall promptly render a full accounting regarding such property, subject to Rule 1.6.
   (c) When in the course of representation a lawyer is in possession of property in which interests are claimed by the lawyer and another person, or by two or more persons to each of whom the lawyer may have an obligation, the property shall be kept separate by the lawyer until there is an accounting and severance of interests in the property. If a dispute arises concerning the respective interests among persons claiming an interest in such property, the undisputed portion shall be distributed and the portion in dispute shall be kept separate by the lawyer until the dispute is resolved. Any funds in dispute shall be deposited in a separate account meeting the requirements of paragraph (a).
   (d) Advances of unearned fees and unincurred costs shall be treated as property of the client pursuant to paragraph (a) until earned or incurred unless the client consents to a different arrangement. Regardless of whether such consent is provided, Rule 1.16(d) applies to require the return to the client of any unearned portion of advanced legal fees and unincurred costs at the termination of the lawyer’s services in accordance with Rule 1.16(d).
   (e) Nothing in this Rule shall prohibit a lawyer or law firm from placing clients’ funds which are nominal in amount or to be held for a short period of time in one or more interest-bearing accounts for the benefit of the charitable purposes of a court-approved "Interest on Lawyers Trust Account (IOLTA)" program.
   (f) Nothing in this Rule shall prohibit a lawyer from placing a small amount of the lawyer’s funds into a trust account for the sole purpose of defraying bank charges that may be made against that account.


   [1] A lawyer should hold property of others with the care required of a professional fiduciary. Securities should be kept in a safe deposit box, except when some other form of safekeeping is warranted by special circumstances. All property that is the property of clients or third persons should be kept separate from the lawyer’s business and personal property and, if monies, in one or more trust accounts maintained with financial institutions meeting the requirements of paragraph (a). Separate trust accounts may be warranted when administering estate monies or acting in similar fiduciary capacities.
   [2] Paragraph (d) of Rule 1.15 permits advances against unearned fees and unincurred costs to be treated as either the property of the client or the property of the lawyer, but absent consent by the client to a different arrangement, the Rule’s default position is that such advances be treated as the property of the client, subject to the restrictions provided in paragraph (a). In any case, at the termination of an engagement, advances against fees that have not been incurred must be returned to the client as provided in Rule 1.16(d).
   [3] The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has promulgated specific rules allowing lawyers to place clients’ funds that are nominal in amount, or that are to be held for a short period of time, into interest-bearing accounts for the benefit of the charitable purposes of a court-approved "Interest on Lawyers Trust Account (IOLTA)" program. On February 22, 1985, the court added to DR 9-103 a new paragraph (C) that expressly permitted IOLTA accounts meeting the requirements of Appendix B to Rule X of the court’s Rules Governing the Bar of the District of Columbia. Appendix B sets forth detailed rules to be followed in establishing and administering IOLTA accounts. Paragraph (e) of this Rule is substantially identical to DR 9-103(C). The rules contained in Appendix B to Rule X are hereby incorporated and must be followed in setting up IOLTA programs pursuant to paragraph (e).
   [4] Lawyers often receive funds from third parties from which the lawyer’s fee will be paid. If there is risk that the client may divert the funds without paying the fee, the lawyer is not required to remit the portion from which the fee is to be paid. However, a lawyer may not hold funds to coerce a client into accepting the lawyer’s contention. The disputed portion of the funds should be kept in trust and the lawyer should suggest means for prompt resolution of the dispute, such as arbitration. The undisputed portion of the funds should be promptly distributed.
   [5] Third parties, such as a client’s creditors, may have just claims against funds or other property in a lawyer’s custody. A lawyer may have a duty under applicable law to protect such third-party claims against wrongful interference by the client, and accordingly may refuse to surrender the property to the client. However, a lawyer should not unilaterally assume to arbitrate a dispute between the client and the third party.
   [6] The obligations of a lawyer under this Rule are independent of those arising from activity other than rendering legal services. For example, a lawyer who serves as an escrow agent is governed by the applicable law relating to fiduciaries even though the lawyer does not render legal services in the transaction.
   [7] A "clients’ security fund" provides a means through the collective efforts of the Bar to reimburse persons who have lost money or property as a result of dishonest conduct of a lawyer. Where such a fund has been established, a lawyer should participate.
   [8] With respect to property that constitutes evidence, such as the instruments or proceeds of crime, see Rule 3.4(a).